What are the emotional hot buttons that lead you to overreact? Is there a certain way that people look at you, talk to you, or act in general that leads you to explode in anger or sadness? You can't explain why, but you know when this happens you feel your self-control slipping away.
Everyone faces a situation when people take a poke at an emotionally sensitive spot in your psyche. For some individuals, though, those hot buttons are more prevalent and problematic than for others. They see criticism everywhere and, by their overreaction, make things worse.
This quality is called "rejection sensitivity" and involves the constant expectation that other people will not accept you.
Long Island University's Kevin Meehan and colleagues, in a new study, note that individuals high in this quality feel "sureness that rejection will be the likely outcome of an interpersonal exchange", and therefore "are often bracing themselves for signs of impending rejection".
Once someone hits that hot button, "the person may exhibit desperate and often maladaptive responses to either shore up the perceived distance… escape the threatening context… or even retaliate against the perceived aggression".
Now a vicious cycle is set in motion, and what they fear would happen in fact takes place. The individual avoids relationships altogether while still longing for closeness, an "irresolvable tension".
However, the cycle can be broken if something about the situation changes. Maybe your interaction partner approaches you in a positive way even though you've been reticent. The entire dynamic now shifts.
It's because of the interactive effect of person and situation that Meehan and his fellow researchers decided to adopt a model based on "interpersonal complementarity".
The research team gives you a smartphone app which they can use to ping you at various points during the day. You provide a quick and immediate snap rating of your emotions, while at the same time indicating what else is happening around you.
The authors tested their method initially on a sample of 228 undergraduate students, producing findings that supported the interactive pattern between rejection sensitivity and ongoing interactions.